Heft

The weight of the book in hand, the quality of the paper to support the reproduction of the photographs, these are things I notice because my first read of Looking for Marshall McLuhan in Afghanistan by Rita Leistner was on screen where the reader floats on a plane or plateau from text to image to text where scrolling is not met by the flicker of turning pages.

I now wonder if my eye would have settled on the same passage if I had encountered the codex version first. The points of entry might be different but I suspect the destination would similar. I like to think that the implied narrative of the closing sequence of photographs: landscape, view point, and figure walking into the landscape stand as a reminder of the journey traced in reading Looking for Marshall McLuhan in Afghanistan — there is no end of observing, noting and reporting.

These are two field notes from that fly by reading of the text and images on screen. They are addressed to the author. Notice how they avoid seduction by McLuhan's tetrads — — — — the I negotiates a kind of deconstructive homage.

Re: Prophylactive Therapy

I really like the implied tension here between before and after (prophylaxis is to prevent and therapy is to ameliorate trauma, wound, ailment).

Very prominently displayed in the book is the term "prophylactive"

This is an intriguing neologism (the adjective is "prohylactic"). One of its echoes is a combo: profile + active. Such a combo is a subliminal reminder of the need to be an engaged reader of images. As well "prophylactive" shares an end sound with "laxative" and hints at activities of purging.
So sensitized, we take on the tetrad's magic...
On another note, I was thinking about the heuristic value of the tetrad and your deployment of the tetrads at the end of the book. In a moment of reflexivity I considered what it would be like to construct a tetrad of the form of the tetrad. Your book had me thinking of the layered connections between maps, series, stories and points of view/perspective. And so regardless of recuperation or obsolescence, I can now sketch out at little diagram with "tetrad" at the centre and surrounded at four points by "map" "series" "story" and "point of view perspective".

Why stop there? Why not put your innovative "iprobe" in the middle? Mischievously, the "iprobe" is surrounded by four "iprobes" ... :) It all implodes or it expands outward into a plane of interlocking discursive moments.

All this came to me because of your statement that the book was designed to be "off the grid" which I took not only to reference connection to electrical supply but also the very design principle itself at work in the organization of the material -- it's very strongly a "grid" layout which of course makes reading off the grid the default position. There is the homage to Quintion Fiore in the typographical display -- but it's still grid-like where Fiore would put in an oblique or two or even a vortex. And the grid is perfect for the "series" display -- each section works through a reproduction of form or genre. The "series" when layered together provide a "map" and each map deserves an interpretation or story. It becomes obvious that the single image needs to be viewed in the context of a series of images in order to become a faithful map to a situation.

Very intriguing. The iProbe masters the grid to generate some off-grid thinking.
As Julian Stallabrass writes in the forward "action, purpose and subject matter cannot be downplayed as mere side-effects of media." We need voices like Rita's to guide the looking and the analysis and guard against any side effects of the prophylaxis.

And so for day 1145
31.01.2010

Inaccessible Residual

Searching for what is just out of reach leads us in another direction to look into. Such is the impression generated by Edward Carson's poetry where the repetitions and echoes provide switchbacks for an never ending road. Take the opening and ending of the fourth and final section of "The Force That Keeps Things Afloat" in Birds Flock Fish School.

This thinking we love leaves everything behind.

[...]

us far behind. This thinking that we love
most is everything we cannot begin to undo.
Marilyn Bowering in a blurb to Carson's Taking Shape remarks that his poems "don't attempt to bind the un-bindable". And again there is the deft hand with conclusions that are not final but are definitive. Take the last poem in the sequence "The Shape of Things".
The shape of things to come is the very last of things
we think of, the last of a generation of thought

moving between us, inventing the time and place
of our love and memories. Together we will summon

the part of the day, and the part of the night
the part of the land, and the part of the water

where we have lain so gently in each other's arms,
where we have dreamed so much, and said so little.

There is nothing left on this wide earth to explain.
There is nothing else for us to come home to.
For in a sense we are at home in this thinking so gently bound to eros. There is the aura of a creation myth in this meditative sequence disguised as a love poem. And an elegy for a future we cannot both inhabit together.

And so for day 1144
30.01.2010

Story and Imitation

Michel Serres in Variations on the Body begins with the body in motion (mountain climbing) and from there invites us to meditate on the body's metamorphoses which forms the basis of imitation and learning. The argument rehearsed here is crude and lacks the evocativeness of Serres's prose. I quote at length from a section called "The Two Metmorphoses".

Fables, stories in which all living things give signs, teach profound things. La Fontaine began his last book with "The Companions of Ulysses"; metamorphosed into animals, these companions decline to become human again, confessing thereby that they have finally found their definitive point of equilibrium, their true character, their fundamental passion. This is how and why men can become animals, why their respective bodies imitate a species, and how fables are written. Fairy tales fascinate children because, endowed with a hundred degrees of freedom, their bodies lend themselves, as much as those of gymnasts and dancers, to every possible transformation, and because this capability, almost infinitely supple, lets them understand from within, by a delighted coenesthesia, the workings of the magic wand, which are less illusory than virtual, less inspired by sorcery than a pedagogy of the possible. Ulysses's sailors have lost this.
We never quite sit still while listening to a story...

And so for day 1143
29.01.2010

Reductions Introduce Nuances

In a type of braiding experiment, Brian Henry weaves a poem where the lines that appeared in five-line stanzas get carried over in a different order in four-line stanzas and the repetition continues through three and then ultimately in couplets. The location of the repeated lines adds a different coloration to each of the lines given the new locale and change in neighbouring lines. I am quite taken by how these two ended up side-by-side.

Some days the tongue needs a prophylactic
Medusa could use a snaky excuse
First to appear was the Medusa line in the initial five-line stanza:
Decide on deciduous or reman ever green
My love     for envy is not your color
Today     un dieu des mauvais cheveux
Medusa could use a snaky excuse
Hotwired straight to the stripping point
Vanishment in ravishment will produce a
And some five-line stanzas later our line about tongue and prophylaxis begins another --- do note how much has got stripped away to produce the couplet quoted above.
Some days the tongue needs a prophylactic
Contusion me blue     confluence of lung-
Less bodies     less impact than palaver
Stupefy the progeny     do it for prosperity
The children frying in cast iron skillets
Beachfront propriety so up this season
What happens when the lines are uprooted and recombined is very much a combing out of the snaky stanzas into couplets that remind one of ghazals and serve as a kind of reminder of the malleability expressed in a stripping away. Progression by a sort of regression.

Brian Henry. "The Stripping Point" in The Stripping Point.

And so for day 1142
28.01.2010

sans Hypatia sans

In a message to a friend, I mis-transcribed the title of the poetry collection as Le Spleen de Pouchkeepsie instead of "Poughkeepsie". That "C" should have been a "G". It just so happens that the typeface is Hypatia Sans and its "G" is very much sans serif and it is very easy to mistake a "G" for a "C" especially when viewing at an angle instead of head on (The book was to my side as I typed away on screen). Take a peek at Hypatia Sans and savour its graceful contours in caps.

That canine resurgence of "pouch" (when pronounced as "pooch" due to the residue of the correct spelling of "pough") suits the recursive doggedness this collection of poems by Joshua Harmon where the encounter with grittiness results in some grace notes of grit. Much of the effect is achieved through enjambement flowing into further enjambment. Take for instance this mini-portrait from "Tableaux Poughkeepsiens"
[...]
or the schoolteacher arriving

at a late regard for wine
by the glass and his own minimal

importance: if you break the rules
then you deserve the consistencies:
[...]
I like how the suggestion of an expansive oenophilia is reigned in by budgetary considerations ("by the glass") but the minimal is also maximal in that more taste experiences are possible than if one stuck to consuming by the bottle. And there is that unexpected tension between rule breaking and "consistencies" not the expected "consequences". Minimal departures full of full-bodied taste.

And so for day 1141
27.01.2010

Broken Chains

Inspired by Lucas Cranach's The Judgement of Paris, our poet liberates the word's syllables.

She exhibits herself
to us with a goddess's instinctive
                            certitude. She holds her
                      wrists back, servile and opaque, as
                      if submitting herself to man-
acles. Her eyes engage
Easy to read "servitude" for "certitude". All under the sign of "as if".

The wicked enjambement is courtesy Scott Hightower Natural Trouble.

And so for day 1140
26.01.2010

House and Garden

From a poetry workshop.

House & Garden


in the shadows
after the dishes
before the night cap

sitting in the house
viewing the garden

snow drifts
insulate

our slumbering bulbs
as we keep vigil
as ever we did.
This was the product of a workshop on love poems by Giles Benaway. Giles distributed three poems: Sonnet XVIII "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day" by William Shakespeare with its polysemic play with "fair" as both "just" and as "beautiful"; "Having a Coke with You" by Frank O'Hara with its accumulative repetition of "partly" leading us to know that the subject is not exhausted; "Poem About Your Laugh" by Susan Glickman with its mastery of metaphor in the service of unfolding some far out conceits.

Giles asked us to compose a piece from 5 to 10 lines, no rhymes and no words ending in "ly". So I produced a few lines on domestic hibernation with a tinge of melancholy.

And so for day 1139
25.01.2010

Dream Waiting

24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep by Jonathan Crary.

On systemic restrictions on day dreaming and reverie.

One of the forms of disempowerment within 24/7 environments is the incapacitation of daydream or of any mode of absent-minded introspection that would otherwise occur in intervals of slow or vacant time. Now one of the attractions of current systems and products is their operating speed: it has become intolerable for there to be waiting time while something loads or connects. When there are delays or breaks of empty time, they are rarely openings for the drift of consciousness in which one becomes unmoored from the constraints and demands of the immediate present. There is a profound incompatibility of anything resembling reverie with the priorities of efficiency, functionality, and speed.
Later, for the patient reader, there is a discussion of waiting in the context of the film by Chantal Akerman De l'est and its dwelling on line-ups.
Certainly, Akerman lets us see the queue as Sartre did, as a plurality of separations that become "the negation of reciprocity." But one of her revelatory achievements is also to show the act of waiting as something essential to the experience of being together, to the tentative possibility of community. It is a time in which encounters can occur. Mixed in with the annoyances and frustrations is the humble and artless dignity of waiting, of being patient as deference to others, as a tacit acceptance of time shared in common. The suspended, unproductive time of waiting, of taking turns, is inseparable from any form of cooperation or mutuality.
Set the timer for a time-out.

And so for day 1138
24.01.2010

Theatre of Quotation and Gesture

But soft, the story starts anew.
It is the last line of the last poem in Randall Mann's Breakfast with Thom Gunn. And its somewhat Shakespearean tone befits the poem "Fictions" which it concludes for it combines a lullaby sentiment with sad intimations of mortality (this is after all a poem that begins "For years, there was no hope. We had grown up / believing the dead, while dead / might stay a while."

In a similar gesture, Mann concludes an earlier collection (Complaint in the Garden) with a poem entitled "The End of the Last Summer" with lines that invoke the spirit of the dead ("The peninsula grows dark; / the dead stay dead. / The sea is rising ... and the world is sand.") — a poem whose last line is a quotation from a concluding line of a poem by Wilfred Owen (and so we are informed by the last text of the book - a note to this effect).

Starting anew ... the world is sand .. and so dream . again

And so for day 1137
23.01.2010

intimate time

Daphne Marlatt. Liquidities in the section "Some Open Doors" closes the poem "innuendo" with these suggestive lines

his laugh her shrug the time it takes intime fake brass
reflects used shine of coffee mug she lifts to wipe
his place clean
in time the intimate plays here with the gesture appropriate to the diner setting but also fitting for the home front

And so for day 1136
22.01.2010

And Then Narration

Gerald L. Bruns. "KAREN MAC CORMACK AMONG THE PAGANS". Drawing on the work of Jean-François Lyotard [The Differend: Phrases in Dispute, trans. George Van Den Abbeele (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983)], Bruns outlines different regimes:

there are multiple and heterogeneous forms of linkages, some of them syntactical (subject-verb-object), some logical (if-then), some propositional (s is p), some hermeneutical (this as that), and some narrative (this then that), but Lyotard’s point is that there are (indefinitely) more forms of enchainment than those we learn to use in school (reasoning, describing, questioning, narrating). Phrasing is not systematic construction. We inhabit a universe of phrases that are rhizomatically proliferating and tangling like crabgrass.
Of his forms of linkages, I want to focus on the last listed. Then, that. It is of course a temporal relation which Bruns associates with narrating. I want to generalize this from the mere temporal to succession in general. Narration (see the distinction between plot and story) rules these pairings. For there is always this then that and the relation arising.

Found Bruns's essay on the WWW at UPenn's site http://www.writing.upenn.edu/library/Bruns-Gerald_on-Karen-Mac-Cormack.html (24-Jun-2007 16:35 62K)
See also What are Poets For?: An Anthropology of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics
See also Antiphonies: Essays on Women's Experimental Poetries in Canada edited by Nate Dorward.

And so for day 1135
21.01.2010

Inducing Reverie

Steven Heighton uses the pretext of taking aim at screen devices to call for a renewed interest in the creative aspects of boredom.

Whatever. The issue here is screen media. The issue is that staring into space—in that musing, semi-bored state that can precede or help produce creative activity—is impossible when you keep interposing a screen between your seeing mind and the space beyond. The idea is to stare at nothing—to let nothingness permeate your field of vision, so that externally unstimulated mind revs down, begins to brood and muse and dream.
Steven Heighton. Work Book: memos & dispatches on writing.

Eyes closed and there are screen memories to contend with. Eyes open and they still alight on details of our environment. It is very very difficult to focus on nothing. Easier to stare and to gaze. And tune out and let the mind wander at will.

One wonders if the flicker of screens cannot in some circumstances invoke a hypnotic state and lead to the nothingness that helps the mind rev down. Would it be any different from watching waves?

And so for day 1134
20.01.2010

Landscape Translations

Canadian sketch after Lachlan MacKinnon

Deep as forever
Great river of stars
Above cabin in the woods
Inspired by MacKinnon's opening to "A Suffolk Sketchbook" in Small Hours
Deep as forever
the great field of stars
over the cottage garden.
This all started as a thinking through of how close to (and how far from) a compressed haiku do the lines of MacKinnon resemble. And from there we thought about forms of transplantation.

And so for day 1133
19.01.2010

Realigning Evoba

I have been particularly struck by squares in Steve McCaffery's Evoba. These emerge out of lists and give rise to operations of -sculpting- or -dropping- and here are three given new arrangement by decontextualization and quoting — two other forms of dropping and sculpting.

Page 82 (our program)

to map
to a law
to a drop
Page 38 (our snapshot)
s  u ture
 tr c   
s  u ture
Page 68 (our narrative)
a gun
begins


a shout
a sh
a sho t
"U" is gone in the shoot out. And so our shooting match concludes in bagging the structure by means of suture and a mapping of law onto dropping "out".

And so for day 1132
18.01.2010

New Lines On Aging

Lines from a new Sappho poem - 2004 Cologne - 2005 Britain -

Martin West's translation appearing in the Times Literary Supplement

[but my once tender] body old age now
[has seized;] my hair’s turned [white] instead of dark;
Lachlan MacKinnon's version acknowledging West's rendering and appearing under the title "Sappho to Her Pupils" in Small Hours ...
Old age freezes my body, once so lithe,
rinses the darkness from my hair, now white.
I like the particularity of the verb "rinse". It gives a sense of time passing and washing away. Startling also is the agency of old age.

And so for day 1131
17.01.2010

Through Stonyground

In Slow Curve Out, Maureen Scott Harris has as one of the opening poems an elegy to Alex Wilson, landscape restorer and author. She concludes the poem with the recollection of first hearing of Alex's illness at Stonyground. The location is over-determined. Stonyground was a ferme ornée, the locale of horticultural splendour and fanciful follies created by Douglas Chambers. This is more than name dropping, this is an attempt to record in literature projects about shaping our relation to environment and each other. Fragile but necessary projects. She concludes her tribute to Wilson thus

When I heard again of his illness
I sat on a green Adirondack chair
in the yard at Stonyground
staring at the page in front of me
while the light dissolved in colours.
It was summer, soft air, birdsong,
a small breeze in the trees.
I could think of nothing to do.
I'm talking about being in love
with the same things, the way the world
will speak us together. And apart.
This figure of unity via some form of shared mentality combined with an acknowledgement of our existential aloneness ends "Epistemology: The World Speaks". Later, like a volunteer one finds transplanted, many poems into the book, another poem with the same figure. "She dreams / the young everywhere are lucid in their beauty, and safe / walking or sitting or dreaming, alone or together." concludes "A Woman Dreaming." One can only imagine that the two pretext fuse in the writer's crucible, the poet remembering of being at Stonyground learning of Alex's illness (AIDS) and the woman dreaming of a future of youth alone and together. Like a great chiasmus sketched over the course of the book, the figure bends in a different way: in one instance we are left with the apartness; in the other, the togetherness; both mediated by the flow of words.

Alexander Wilson The Culture of Nature: North American Landscape from Disney to the Exxon Valdez (1991).

Douglas Chambers Stonyground: The Making of a Canadian Garden (1996).

And so for day 1130
16.01.2010

Lief To Be Alive

Charles Bernstein in the introduction to Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word in a description come injunction invites the reader to enter into a site of openness.

The most resonant possibilities for poetry as a medium can be realized only when the performance of language moves from human speech to animate, but transhuman, sound: that is, when we stop listening and begin to hear; which is to say, stop decoding and begin to get a nose of the sheer noise of language.
This getting of a nose for noise leads me to quote three lines from Barbara Carey ("flawed by belief" in Undressing the Dark) where the task of pronouncing "live" with long or short vowel almost causes the reader to stumble and in turn tumble in a new-found appreciation for the folds of the semantic field.
because to believe
is to be live

is to out live
This yoking of faith to being alive through minute shifts in sounds can be imagined as a constant refreshment. See "Pips in a Watermelon" The Jupiter Collisions Lachlan Mackinnon.
[...] But if faith is a way
it's a perpetual beginning, a setting forth
like that of words into the unknown
minutes and years in which they will disclose
their meaning [...]
"A nose for noise" involves being sensitive to the gap between the "unknown" and the "unknown minutes and years". Dilution. Evolution. Concentration.

And so for day 1129
15.01.2010

Metallurgy

On the page it looks like this:

Once a critic described
the craft of a poet
as flawed by belief,
as it it ran like crooked
seam through precious ore
In my mind it reads like this:
Once a critic described
a poet's craft
as crooked
running
as if flawed by belief
through precious ore
There is a universalizing that happens and a joining of elements of the simile into the fusion of metaphor. And now as an exercise we go for more
craft
crooked
run
through belief flaw
Departures from Barbara Carey, Undressing the Dark, "flawed by belief".

And so for day 1128
14.01.2010

Gifts, Graces, & the Greek Anthology

W.S. Merwin translates Antiphilos (1st century A.D.). It's a poem addressed to a lady and transmits three gifts: a tunic, some wool and some perfume. Merwin (in Selected Translations: 1968-1978) concludes this poetic gift giving thus

[...] I want the first to enfold your body.
the wool to draw out the skill of your fingers,
the scent to find its way through your hair.
Merwin's translation first appeared in Peter Jay's The Greek Anthology and Other Ancient Epigrams. The library of Victoria College in the University of Toronto has in its special collections Northrop Frye's annotations to Jay's edition. The poem by Antiphilos receives no annotation. But there is all this...

Frye draws a line in the margin near Peter Jay's introduction to Plato's poems on the boy Aster (Star).
Shelly thought the second the most perfect of epigrams and used it as an epigraph for his Adonais.
On page 45, the epigram in question as translated by Peter Jay
You were the morning star among the living:
But now in death your evening lights the dead.
Page 129 Peter Jay on Meleager (no annotation but a line at the beginning of the notice)
Meleager has been accused of being too literary a poet, or too ingenious to be 'sincere'; but the authenticity is in the complete control of his medium, the subtle modulations of style and sureness of touch.
Page 285 — a check mark by 644 by Palladas (translation by Tony Harrison).
Born naked. Buried naked. So why fuss?
All life leads to that first nakedness.
There are an number of other poems by Palladas as translated by Tony Harrison with checks or ticks.

Appendix 2. A set of various translations of a poem by Palladas. Frye draws a bracket besides the version by Adrian White and writes in the margin "this is it". An notation as ambiguous as White's version.
A wife will always anger you, but brings
two gifts: her first love and last gasp.
Most of the other versions rhyme "bed" with "dead" (Tony Harrison's very successful bed-dead number is placed by Peter Jay in the stream of entries and not reproduced in the appendix). Worth a mention is Robin Skelton's version which doesn't quite manage the shading of sexual ecstasy into death throes that White gives but is less crude than some of the other offerings.
A woman is a maddening creature
and gives pleasure twice at most,
once when she gives up her virture,
once when she gives up the ghost.
Of course one wonders if Frye shared his appreciation of the epigram with Helen Kemp, his wife. One wonders if he brought to her tunic, wool and nard.

And so for day 1127
13.01.2010

Middles Could Be Titles

It could be a place to end says Philip Whalen about a line in a poem by Lew Welch "Springtime in the Rockies, Lichen".

These are the stamps on the final envelope.
Whalen says
That's a great piece of news and I think at that point the poem should have stopped (just between you and me; you're not supposed to listen, Lewie, in heaven). But I think that he has delivered his whole message right there. He could have moved that line, maybe [...] In any case, that's the poem almost, in that one line. Like the title.
Philip Whalen. "Commonplace Discoveries: Lew Welch" in Beats at Naropa edited by Anne Waldman and Laura Wright.

As Whalen intimates, middle passages can also be lifted to become poems, complete on their own. My next example is taken from W.S. Merwin's translation of a poem by Roberto Juarroz (No. 6 in Fifth Vertical Poetry).
Each thing makes a tongue for itself
The glass for example
to talk with the wine.
To read these vertical poems is like to experience the work of Jenny Holzer in one of its incarnations in the displays of electronic signage. There is something akin between presentation of fluid fragments and reading with rearrangement in mind.

And so for day 1126
12.01.2010

Twisted Eye and Tongue: Encounters With Third Meaning

Charles Simic "The Gaze We Knew As A Child" in Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell concludes with the following observation:

The images Cornell has in his boxes are, however of the third kind [images we see with eyes closed]. [...] They tempt the viewer in two opposite directions. One is to look and admire the elegance and other visual properties of the composition, and the other is to make up stories about what one sees. In Cornell's art, the eye and the tongue are at cross purposes. Neither one by itself is sufficient. It's that mingling of the two that makes up the third image.
Somehow this sparks a recollection of Roland Barthes "The Third Meaning: Research Notes on some Eisenstein Stills" trans. Stephen Heath in Image, Music, Text.
[obtuse or third meaning] radically recasts the theoretical status of the anecdote: the story (diegesis) is no longer just a strong system (the millennial system of narrative) but also and contradictorily a simple space, a field of permanences and permutations. [p. 64]
Image in one, meaning in the other. Permutations here, sensory modalities there. Simple but complex.

And so for day 1125
11.01.2010

ON MAJUSCULES

The poetry of Roberto Juarroz have been translated into English by W.S. Merwin among others. In Merwin's Selected Translations: 1968-1978 there is a poem by Juarroz wherein is depicted a man and his strange encounter with capital letters. They are described as follows:

They weigh more on the tongue.
They weigh more but they get away
faster and hardly
can they be spoken.
In 1988 another version of the poem appears in Vertical Poetry. Same translator, same poem, different time and therefore slightly different rendering.
They weigh more on the tongue.
They weigh more but they get away
faster and he can hardly
pronounce them.
Vertical Poetry put out by North Point Press provides us with the source text in the beautiful design by David Bullen (where the Spanish is given at the bottom of the page instead of the more often encountered facing page layout).
Pesan más en la lengua.
Pesan más pero escapan
con más prisa y apenas
si puede pronunciarlas.
Merwin in his second version brings back the man facing capitals as an agent of the pronunciation. This removes the somewhat awkward passive but in giving up that construction, the clunk (due to the enjambement and the repeated K sounds: "hardly / can they be spoken") is lost. The clunk I would suggest is part of the difficulty in pronouncing the fleeting letters.

A translation of the translation can offer a typographic trick: "hardly / can they be SPOKEN". And further, poking at the spooks ... "hardly / can they be S P O K E N".

And so for day 1124
10.01.2010

One Pig Two Animals

Henri Cole. Touch.

Two poems stand out for me by their connected theme of the insufficiency of body to achieve transcendental states. Take "Pig" in which the speaker is driving behind a flatbed truck and contemplates the "poor patient pig" trying to keep his balance. The speaker imagines the animal "enjoying the wind, maybe, against the tufts of hair / on the tops of his ears" and then via an acknowledgement of the viewer-speaker having heavy eyes "glazed / from caffeine and driving" the animal becomes a figure for the man "in his middle years struggling to remain / vital and honest while we are just floating / around accidental-like on a breeze." The speaker pulls back slightly from the "we" to conclude with a muted exclamation.

What funny thoughts slide into the head,
alone on the interstate with no place to be.
The conversational tone belies the enjeu raised earlier when the speaker last invokes the pig "its flesh probably bacon now tipping into split / pea soup". The concessive adverbs pile up: maybe the pig enjoys the breeze, possibly ends up in pea soup and we are just floating. It is a remarkable tour de force to so intently focalize the perspective and to imply a universal aspect to the funny thoughts.

This wry voice seems to be at work in another poem later in the book called "One Animal" — the echo with "Pig" is marked for me by the insistence on failure of a sort and the triumph of a kind of animality. "One Animal" consists almost entirely of relationship advice phrased in the "do not" mode. Some of it is hopeless. For example, how can one not woof woof when told "Do not utter the monosyllable twice that is / the signature of dogdom." The set of do not statements culminates in an ending that again stresses our aloneness (but not our loneliness).
And do not think — touching his hair,
licking, sucking, and being sucked in the same
instant, no longer lonely — that you
are two animals perfect as one.
Quite some time ago (in the last century) I worked through a critique of dyads and would have welcomed lines from Henri Cole to serve as an epigraph and keen reminder that the couple is not a fusion into one single entity unmarked by dialectics. But Cole's poems deserve to be further relished not only in part for his naughty celebration of the homoerotic allied to a severe reckoning with romance but also in part for their pure craft.

And so for day 1123
09.01.2010

House Less Home

1984. Daphne Marlatt. Touch to My Tongue. "houseless".

what is at stake here is an epistemology of the erotic — how ways of knowing include ways of being together

i can only be, no vessel but a movement running, out in the open, out in the dark and rising tide, in risk, knowing who i am with you —

creatures of ecstasy, we have risen drenched from our own wet grasses, reeds, sea. turned out, turned inside out, beside ourselves, we are the tide swelling, we are the continent draining, deep and forever into each other.
The book also conveys the image work of Cheryl Sourkes and these words from Marlatt apply equally to the photographs from Memory Room; they inhabit the similar space. Before a photograph from Sourkes, the book ends with an essay "musing with mothertongue" from Marlatt (first given as a talk at the 1983 Women and Words conference) in which is conjured the figure of the woman writer (and by extension, artist):
inhabitant of language, not master, not even mistress, this new woman writer (Alma, say) is having is had, is held by it, what she is given to say. in giving it away is given herself, on that double edge where she has always lived, between the already spoken and the unspeakable, sense and non-sense. only now she writes it, risking nonsense, chaotic language leafings, unspeakable breaches of usage, intuitive leaps. inside language she leaps for joy, shoving out the walls of taboo and propriety, kicking syntax, discovering life in old roots.
Note the related work of exploring the breath of language via experiments with syntax and the etymological excavations to inspire further ruminations. When same touches same ... more wildly more unmoored.

And so for day 1122
08.01.2010

From Catalyst

Sitting in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library is a treat. It is like sitting in a restaurant waiting for the dish to be served up. One delicious item is Autumnal by Thomas Meyer published by Catalyst in 1975. The poem is laid out in a four-folded sheet. The cover is a photo of the poet we assume. The back contains a simple colophon "published 1975 by catalyst" following the bottom border of the page. Inside the left page is blank, the right page has the poem set in two columns and the signature "Tom Meyer". We appear to have in our hands a pastiche of a greeting card.

And the poetry? Exquisite.

Meyer is the master of the short line as evidenced in his books such as Uranian roses or Staves calends legends. Here at the heart of this one-pager is an image of a detail familiar to anyone who has prepared leeks. Startling however is the leap to an image of rain and wet hair (unless one is alert to an unstated suggestion of homophones: leek/leak).

What is remarkable is how the scene unfolds from the mention of detail. Note how the poet begins with the grit and comes to name the vegetable last. Likewise we are led from rain to hair via the position of the hand. The "news" item is always last and lingering.

[...]     
& grit     
deep in white     
rings of a fat     
new leek     
      
      
     a gentle rain has begun
     to remind me of him
     [...]
The poem ends with the image of the speaker's hand in the beloved's "wet August hair". Or at least tone and style set this in the erotic mode and we believe we are presented with an image of the beloved.

And so for day 1121
07.01.2010

Orchestrating Closure

April 24, 2003.
Excerpt from online chat re paper Of Drugs, Messages and Time

Pia: Our Staff Development program offered a workshop for the faculty on How to Say Hello and Goodbye in the semester.

CaroleM: A debrief can enable students to see the ROI in their sharing and alternative methods of reusing them [i.e. work on file or work in progress]

CaroleM: sounds interesting Pia

Beverley: Pia, can you elaborate a bit?

Pia: The faculty agreed that we are good at getting started and acquainted in the class

lachance: When do you begin to say goodbye?

Pia: But at the end of the semester we faculty are mostly concerned with grading the finals

Pia: Rather than creating an environment to reflect on what was learned throughout the semester.

lachance: Portable & shareable creations worthy of commentary spring from recognizing we must say goodbye

lachance: a good learning situation creates memories.
This interaction led to another online contribution in the form of "Infrastructure and Transactions: students as custodian-enablers" for the Online In Higher Education, School of Arts and Sciences, Indiana University Purdue/University Fort Wayne, November 2003. That paper has a feisty conclusion:
I do know that characterizing the online learning experience as a perpetual field trip, a magical show and tell, means that we can do a lot more with less. And someone someday will tell some dean that online learning is all about an encounter: pedagogy of the oppressed meets the theatre of poverty.
And so for day 1120
06.01.2010

To Behold To Become

There is a fine book by Elizabeth Ladenson called Proust's Lesbianism which is of course about the depiction and positioning of lesbianism in La Recherche but it is also subtly an argument about a devenir lesbien. In short, the protagonist-narrator requires a "departure from a phallic economy" in order to launch his own development. Here is Ladenson's argument neatly summarized towards the end of the book. It is very elegant and thought provoking.

The narrator's subsequent quest to penetrate the mystery of erotic relations between women has its origin in this familial triangle involving the mother, the grandmother, and the son who would be a daughter. One of the most salient characteristics of Gomorrah is the evident narcissism of relations between women: each desires her like, and they all resemble one another. When he first encounters the "petite bande" of "jeunes filles en fleurs," the narrator cannot settle on a single object of desire because they are indistinguishable to him. What he really desires is their interdependence on one another, as well as their independence from him: like the mother and grandmother, they form a seamless whole. Thus Proust's narrator desires women who desire other women not despite the fact but precisely because they evidently do not need him. It is in imitation of this resemblance between subject and object that the project of recherche finally comes to fruition: turning away from the doomed attempt to insert himself between women, the narrator decides to reproduce himself.
Ladenson's reading is well supported by the textual evidence and offers a smart and smooth riposte to a quagmire of interpretations that would transpose willy nilly the genders of characters (in a bid to read the novel as autobiographical). Her insistence that Gomorrah not be read as a mirror image of Sodom rewards: it brings to light more of the architectonics. Reading Landenson is like being guided through a complex musical score; the experience lingers delightfully in memory — ever to be savoured anew.

And so for day 1119
05.01.2010

Global View of Canine Feces

W.S. Merwin in Selected Translations 1968-1978 has rendered selections from Asia which he gathers under the rubrics Japanese Figures, Chinese Figures and Korean Figures. The pieces are two-liners (they don't quite function like couplets) without any direct links between them. The impression generated is one of a collection of aphorisms. One of my favourites is found in Korean Figures — there is something outré about its subject matter and something insightful in its treatment.

Even on dog turds
the dew falls
One can appreciate the remarkable syntax which by placing "the dew" last implies a universal fate — the dew covers many many things including the abject. As well, the poet refers to a definite dew — it's "the" dew not simply "dew". The use of the verb "to fall" to describe the dew makes it in someway akin to what has already fallen and of course the shared initial consonant between "dog" and "dew" evokes a certain similitude. And on the pages of Merwin's book there is a bit of white space before the next two-liner — enough space for dew to evaporate and excrement to decompose.

And so for day 1118
04.01.2010

Invitations To A Certain View

One writer encounters another in a series of concentrations.

Gertrude Stein Tender Buttons is available online via Project Gutenberg

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15396/15396-h/15396-h.htm

From the section on Objects.

A BOX.

Out of kindness comes redness and out of rudeness comes rapid same question, out of an eye comes research, out of selection comes painful cattle. So then the order is that a white way of being round is something suggesting a pin and is it disappointing, it is not, it is so rudimentary to be analysed and see a fine substance strangely, it is so earnest to have a green point not to red but to point again.
Part of Steve McCaffery's homolinguistic translations from Every Way Oakly (Book Thug, 2008), this suggestive bit from his "A Box."
prick a bubble of milk
try to get excited bursting it
wonder why there's just a bubble of it
As I read more of McCaffery's translation experiment, I notice how Stein's descriptions get transposed into imperatives about how to perceive. And am further convinced that descriptions are just that invitations to a certain view.

This is my long held view based on my reading of Turing on states and instructions.

And so for day 1117
03.01.2010

In Pursuit

We are attracted. We are repulsed. And still we flutter. Puzzled.

Joy Kogawa in the middle of a poem ("Hangnail") has a description of the death of a moth. The poem is found in A Choice of Dreams. The passage lifts the speaker out of concern for the small but painful hangnail. Our speaker with sardonic tone notes that "A hug might help / But I can't feel any cosmic arms / Nor earthly ones —". And then we are thrust into a meditation upon the moth and its demise.

While walking I stepped on a giant moth
And in the long moment of its dying
All the accummulated injustices
Of squashed and battered bugs
Sacrificed on windshields
And sprayed to oblivion
Poured out of its eloquent wings
In one long fluttering —
Yes, our copy text gives us two m's for "accumulated". Almost as if the moth was squashed right into the word.

And Kogawa's poem makes me want to revisit Robin Blaser's Moth Poem. It's a long sequence but this little bit provides a nice pendant to the Kogawa.
the moth in the piano
will play on
frightened wings brush
the wired interior
of that machine
Penn Sound has a recording of Blaser reading The Moth Poem. To listen is to rediscover as the poet writes "the moth-kiss has two languages" and in neither am I fluent. C D E flat G A B flat B D [C D Eb G A Bb B D] (this sequence of notes set out on a vertical axis concludes The Moth Poem as collected in The Holy Forest; the sequence goes unarticulated in the recording). I have no ability in reading music but the mention in The Moth Poem of mirrors evokes for me Ravel's Miroirs of which the first movement is Noctuelles ("Night Moths"). For recordings and score see http://imslp.org/wiki/Miroirs_(Ravel,_Maurice). Neither by sight nor by ear can I make out if Blaser's notation matches Ravel's piece composed for piano solo and dedicated to members of the Apaches. Lacking musical knowledge or a convenient gloss, it is but with a moth's breath that I connect Ravel to Blaser — and the little journey from flame to flame all began with Kogawa's fluttering lines.

ADDENDUM:

In response to an appeal for assistance in elucidating a musical component in Robin Blaser's Moth Poem, a subscriber to Humanist conveyed their daughter's suggestion that I pose the query to the American Musicological Society list. A most fruitful suggestion.

It was with a bit of trepidation I trod on the turf of the experts. But I was curious about what it might be that the poet Robin Blaser in The Moth Poem presents as the penultimate section of his serial poem:

C D Eb G A Bb B D

What I proposed to the AMS-list: What I am trying to determine is whether Blaser is citing an existing piece of music, inventing something, or translating (i.e. modifying something that exists). The musical "quotation" occurrs before the final section of the poem which is devoted to the figure of the translator.

Results:

I was kindly disabused of the notion that the letters represented chords. (Ever so nicely done off list: "Those notes are probably not chords per se, but some fragment of melody. If they were chords it would sound something like smashing your entire hand on the piano, [...]").

The series of pitches is not connected to Ravel (WWW keyword searches had revealed a possible allusion to Ravel's Miroirs of which the first movement is Noctuelles ("Night Moths") but the evidence is negative for a citing of the Ravel)..

Likewise for a direct connection to Pierrot Luniare, a set of poems by Albert Giraud set to music by Arnold Schoenberg.

Eric Grunin (grunin.com) suggested "That poem was set to music by Harrison Birtwistle, in "The Moth Requiem". His publisher's page for the piece states: 'This poem was prompted by Blaser tracing eerie nighttime sounds in his house to a moth caught under the lid of a piano, touching the strings in its efforts to escape.' Those notes are an ascending sequence, so if the story is not apocryphal they may plausibly be the notes Blaser heard." This is a very elegant solution — in an Occam's Razor fashion. Also aligns well with internal evidence. fashion.

Bonus: Harrison Birtwistle set the poem to music in the "The Moth Requiem". Question remains if Birtwistle took up the pitch-row given at the end of the Blaser poem in his "Requiem".

Other searches uncovered a possible intertext for the Blaser poem in the verse of Don Marquis (http://www.donmarquis.org/themoth.htm). Blaser is likely to have known this item of the popular culture. BTW I first encountered Archy and Mehitabel through the music and stories of Rosalie Sorrels (Always A Lady).

An abundance of riches, gratefully acknowledged. And a testament to the ongoing value of discussion lists.

And so for day 1116
02.01.2010

Waves Reverberations Suspensions

Robert Bly in Point Reyes Poems concludes with a piece called "The large starfish" which describes a nine-pointed starfish which slowly wraps itself around the speaker's hand and after a while is returned to the tidal pool. In a small space, the conclusion in its punctuation not only reflects the elaborate description of the animal to which we have been previously a party but also lends an ephemeral note to the passage since it revolves through ellipsis, hyphen and comma (lots of changes) while noting that nothing has changed.

I put him back in ... he unfolds — I had forgotten how purple he was — and slides down into his rock groin, the snail-like feelers waving as if nothing had happened, and nothing has.
The reader is abruptly yanked into the present by the change in tense. In seashore parlance we get wet as we walk along the perimeter between land and water. The syntax here reminds me of the image of an earlier piece "Sea water pouring back over stones" in Point Reyes Poems.
Waves rush up, pause, & drag pebbles back around stones ... pebbles going out ... it is a complicated sound, as of small sticks breaking, or kitchens heard from another house, good bodies turning over .. then the wave comes down to the boulders, & draws out over the stones always wet, it is the gentleness of William Carlos Williams after his strokes ...
The ellipses are Bly's.

The movement from a description of wave action to a named person reminds me of a poem by Joy Kogawa collected in A Choice of Dreams which is entitled simply "Beach Poem". As with Bly, we are immediately there. It begins ...
Walking in warm knee deep water
Watching tiny waves inside of waves
And the speaker deeply absorbed is surprised.
The coming and going water pattern
And not seeing the round bald man
We are then treated to the image of the round bald man splashing, grinning and grunting "startlingly like a pig". Which expression of joy prompts a moment of envy to conclude the poem.
And the water murky around him
And small pearly waters dripping
All around all around and I wish
I had a curly tail but sadly it is only forked.
The tone, to me, is wry. A little devilry in the round all around for the fork-tailed speaker has just produced the little marvel we have read.

And so for day 1115
01.01.2010